We’re taught to “put our heads together,” to combine our collective wisdom, to solve problems in life. But sometimes it takes an experience of group discernment to really “get it.” I’d like to share one of mine.
One day while attending San Francisco Theological Seminary, five of us were given a seminary van to take across the bay to the Lutheran seminary in Berkeley for a pastoral counseling class. On the drive home late that evening, the van developed a flat tire on a busy freeway in a part of the Bay area known for having a higher than usual crime rate.
We were scared and a little panicky. So, we “put our heads together.”
One woman decided we needed to pray and attempted to make us all hold hands and ask God for help.
Another said, “this is ridiculous — what we need is to get out and figure out how to fix the flat.” The sole male of the group, being young and wanting to rescue us, said he would run across the freeway to get help — an outrageously stupid idea that we vetoed immediately.
At the time, I worked as a weekend radio traffic reporter and knew the danger of being static on the shoulder next to fast-moving traffic. I also knew from experience that if we just “sat tight,” someone driving along the highway would use their cellphone to call emergency services to help us. Which is eventually what happened, which was good because we discovered that we had no jack, no spare tire, and no cellphone (it was quite a few years ago) — in short, no way to help ourselves or reach out for help in the immediate future.
This group response to mild crisis illustrates how differently we all approach decisions in our lives.
The woman who immediately wanted to pray was not wrong or silly to have that response (although we snickered at her then). She was a cancer survivor who believed in the power of prayer to heal and rescue. A few years later, she developed a brain tumor that seemed to respond miraculously to healing prayer. Who am I to laugh at her for wanting us to pray?
The woman who preferred human action over prayer in this instance was not wrong to tell us to get to work. She’d spent many years working with people experiencing poverty and knew the value of people putting their heads together and coming up with creative solutions. She figured if it’s something God has given her the “know-how” to do, the prayer has already been answered, so what are we waiting for?The young man who wanted to cross the freeway was not wrong, at least not in his intentions. He wanted to be the one who fulfilled the action he believed was needed. He wanted to be the answer to our prayer.
And I was not wrong to suggest that we were pretty much whipped and should just sit and wait. I knew that we wouldn’t be fixing that flat on our own — we needed help. Being a traffic reporter, I also knew that human nature is such that help would eventually come our way.
We all had a fragment of God’s wisdom in this crisis. There’s a popular saying among those of us who teach group discernment, found in Mary Benet McKinney’s excellent book Sharing Wisdom. (P13):
“No one has all of the wisdom
Every person has a different piece of the wisdom
Everyone has some of the wisdom”
Of course, the difficult part is coming to unity around the wisdom we are collectively given.
Looking back on the van incident, I see that each of us, with all our quirks and beliefs contributed to getting us home safely that evening.
Spiritual direction is the practice of noticing where God is alive in your life and work. A spiritual director can help you learn new ways to pray. If you want to learn more about spiritual direction, I have a new book Spiritual Direction 101: The Basics of Spiritual Guidance by Apocryphile Press that addresses many aspects of this practice. It’s available on Amazon.
Also, I enjoy sharing emails with people who have questions about spiritual direction. I may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via my website www.teresablythe.net. I do have openings for spiritual direction clients if you are interested.